Presented on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at the Quarry Farm Barn.
In Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894), Mark Twain sends his most famous characters - Tom, Huck, and Jim - on an airship voyage across the Atlantic to Africa. By the time Twain wrote that novel, nearly 100 similar stories about young Americans in imaginary aircraft and other vehicles had appeared in magazines and serials. They featured boy inventors using their ingenuity and technology to take over remote locales, not unlike Twain's Hank Morgan in A Connecticut Yankee (1889). By looking at Twain's work in the context of the boy-inventor publishing explosion, we find new insights into the early stirrings of anti-imperialist fervor, his complex views on race, and his wilting faith in technology. Surprisingly, some now-obscure dime novelists wrestled with those same concepts before Twain (and helped birth modern "steampunk" along the way). This presentation covers some of their works along with Twain's unique contributions to the genre.
Nathaniel Williams is a lecturer for the University Writing Program at the University of California, Davis. His book on Twain and 19th-century technocratic fiction is forthcoming from University of Alabama Press. He has recently written chapters for The Centrality of Crime Fiction in American Literary Culture and the upcoming Cambridge History of Science Fiction. His essays have appeared in American Literature, Utopian Studies, and elsewhere. He serves on the advisory board of the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction housed at his alma mater, The University of Kansas.